Our understanding of things oftentimes is based upon our relation to the event taking place, the information being shared, and our own perspective. We can watch the first quarter of a Thunder game and be thoroughly convinced who the winner will be, only to be proven wrong if we walk away before the final buzzer sounds. We can watch a short video clip being shown on the evening news and never gain a correct understanding of what truly took place. We can “overhear” a conversation taking place and walk away never having really understood what was being shared. We can read one verse of God’s Word, out of context, be thoroughly convinced about what we think it means, and yet be thoroughly wrong.
There is a story of a little girl who lived across the street from a cemetery. She would often listen from a distance to the ministers speak the words of committal at the graveside services. One day, she decided to have a funeral of her own in her backyard. She thought she would bury her teddy bear. After digging a grave, she solemnly lowered the toy bear into the ground. Then she said the words that she thought she heard the preachers say again and again across the street at the cemetery. As she lowered her deceased teddy bear into the ground she said, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and in the hole you goes.” I don’t remember ever having said those words, but that’s what she thought she heard.
Not only do we fail to understand because we fail to draw near to hear the whole story or to observe the event in its entirety, but we also fail to understand because we come from a unique perspective. We can watch an activity which is common in another culture, but unfamiliar to our own, and conclude that it is absurd or weird. Because of our different perspectives, men and women often belittle one another’s little idiosyncrasies common to our gender. You and I are shaped by the family we grew up in, by our culture, by our biological make-up, and by our chosen professions. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
There were three men who went on a hunting trip. One was an engineer, another was a psychologist, and the last man was a preacher. The three men were hunting in Canada when they arrived at what looked like an abandoned cabin. They knocked on the door and no one answered so they went in. As they entered the cabin they noticed a large potbellied, cast-iron stove suspended in mid-air by wires attached to the ceiling beams. Each of the men wondered, “Why would a stove be elevated above the floor?” Each of them began to look behind the phenomenon for “hidden meanings.” The psychologist concluded, “It is obvious that this lonely trapper, isolated from humanity, has elevated his stove so he can curl up under it and vicariously experience a return to his mother’s womb.” The engineer looked puzzled and said, “No, no, you are wrong. The man is practicing laws of thermodynamics. By elevating his stove, he has discovered a way to distribute heat more evenly throughout the cabin.” The preacher had an even better explanation. He said, “I’m sure that hanging his stove from the ceiling has a religious meaning. Fire lifted up has been a religious symbol for centuries.”
The pyschologist, engineer, and preacher continued their debate for some time without really resolving the issue. Finally, the door swung open and in walked the trapper. The men realized who he was and immediately asked him why he had hung his potbellied stove by wires from the ceiling. His answer was rather simple: “I didn’t have enough stovepipe to vent the stove, but I had plenty of wire so I hung it high enough to vent it through the roof.”
Our lack of understanding due to our failure to be still, listen, and learn is apparent in our relationships with others, but even more importantly, it is more than evident in our relationship with God. If you and I, those who are confined by our limited perspectives, our lack of attention, and our willingness to jump to conclusions, ever want to truly gain an understanding of God’s ways, thoughts, and desires, then we must draw near to God and allow Him to teach us.
Are you as amazed as I am at all of the different ideas that are floating around out there in society about God? God is being described today as many things which He never claimed to be, nor desires to be for that matter. Some folks believe that God can be anything you want Him to be; a tree, an ocean, a beautiful, picturesque mountain scene. Others believe that you and I are God — now that’s a scary thought! Still others believe in a Supreme Being, but they make Him out to be what they think He should be. They say things like, “God wants you to be happy, healthy, and wealthy.” “God will give you whatever you want.” “Sin is whatever you think ‘sin’ is.” Our problem today is not that God is ever-changing and therefore impossible to understand–our problem is that we fail to draw near to Him in worship so that He can reveal Himself to us. When we fail to understand the character and nature of God then we will most certainly fail to understand the meaning and purpose of life. You and I can only gain perspective on life as we draw near to God and learn of His ways and His purposes for each of us. If you or I want to make some sense of this world, and our own life as well, then we must draw near to God.
We live in a hurry-up kind of world. Even though each of us has 24 hours in each day it seems like we are always running short of time. For most of us, there are things that are left undone each and every day. I want to encourage us to examine the way we use our time so that we can make time each and every day to draw near to God, to spend time in His Word, to worship Him in quiet times spent with no noise, no interruptions, and no agenda other than drawing near. James invites us to do just this when he writes,
8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8 NIV)
I want us to take a few minutes this morning to understand the benefits of quiet times of worship so that God can reveal Himself to us. The most visible illustration we have of the impact that drawing near to God can make on my life and yours is Jesus. It is a dangerous thing for us to so focus on the divinity of Jesus that we forget about His humanity. While Jesus was on earth He was faced with every temptation you and I are faced with in life and yet He did not sin. The writer of Hebrews says,
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)
“He was tempted in every way that we are…?” Come on, you got to be kidding!” My friend, if “every” doesn’t encompass your particular temptation, then would you please define “every” for me. Not only was Jesus tempted in every way, but you and I share the struggles of temptations of life as well. All of the things that seek to pull you away, which seek to entice you to live your life apart from God, those are the same things that plague all of us. They may have different nuances, the particulars may vary a little, but the root of our temptations are the same. We have that in common my friends. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians,
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)
Jesus was God in the flesh, that is true, but we must never forget that He was also fully man, and yet he was more fully alive than any man or woman who has ever lived? What was the secret to His passion and power? Let me give you a hint.
In Matthew 14, we read about a time when Jesus was teaching a large crowd. There were about 5,000 men, not counting the women and children, who had come to hear Jesus speak. The crowd grew hungry, and to make a long story short, with five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus fed the crowd, everyone was filled, and there were leftovers! In Matthew 14:22-23 we can read what happened next.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray… (Matthew 14:22-23 NIV)
Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him because He had something He needed to do. What did He need to do? He needed to be alone with the Father. This wasn’t a yearly ritual for Jesus, it wasn’t a scheduled appointment, it was His lifeline. Let me share another example with you.
I mentioned that we are so busy that we oftentimes don’t have time for God. Well, in Luke 5:15-16 we learn that Jesus’ popularity was skyrocketing. The word was speading, the demands were growing, the crowds were swelling…what did He do in response? Read along with me.
15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:15-16 NIV)
At the end of His ministry, as Jesus was preparing to go to the Cross, He found time to go to the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus went with his followers to a place called Gethsemane. He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36 NIV)
The crowds were whirling all around Him, the cross was standing before Him, and yet Jesus never said, “Father, I just can’t find the time to get alone with You.” Jesus drew near to the Father so that He could draw from the deep well of life-giving water needed to give Him direction in life, sustain His life, and enable Him to fulfill God’s purpose. If you and I are ever to gain a heavenly perspective on God’s plans for history, and our own lives, then we must draw near to Him.
There are so many positive benefits that come from drawing near to the Lord. I want to share just four of them with you this morning. These transforming opportunities are available to every believer who is willing to take the time to draw near to God.
God Will Cleanse Us
First, when we draw near to God He will cleanse us. As much as we have tried to alleviate “guilt” from the language of the people of our society today, we have failed and failed miserably. Guilt hangs like a shroud of darkness in so many hearts today. As much as the psychologists and religious gurus try and convince us that we are not guilty, our conscience testifies against us. David wrote Psalm 32. Listen to this.
Of David. A maskil. Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5 NIV)
Somebody here this morning needs to know this: You and I need not carry the burden of our guilt any longer. Jesus died so that you and I might be forgiven and not have to suffer under the weight of our guilt. We can come before the throne of Almighty God and receive the cleansing, the forgiveness, that we so desperately need. Time after time in God’s Word we find men and women who were burdened down with their own guilt. They couldn’t shake it, but they found a new lease on life when they received the cleansing forgiveness of Jesus. You and I are no different than those who have gone before us, we need forgiveness or our guilt will eat away at our soul.
David knew the feelings and the effects of guilt that plague you and me. This is why he wrote, 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (Psalm 32:3 NIV) We hear so much on the talk shows about how our parents have failed us, society has failed us, our friends have failed us, etc. All of that is true. We live in a broken world, full of broken people, and broken people tend to break promises, commitments, and relationships. We need not focus on how others have failed us because the fact of the matter is that we have failed, we have sinned, as well. We’ve sinned against others, but we’ve also sinned against God. Some of those sins we try to overlook or justify, but when we are all alone, away from the distractions of life, our sins cry out against us.
When we draw near to God it is first a painful experience because in the light of His pure holiness our sins are magnified. We see clearly just how abhorrent and nauseating our acts of defiance against God are in His sight. After our eyes are opened to our sin, our utter depravity, then God can forgive and cleanse us if we will own up to our sin, rather than deny our guilt or try and blame it on someone else.
I remember an event that happened many years ago, after O.J. Simpson was arrested for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Rosey Grier, the former All-Pro football player with the Los Angeles Rams, who became a minister, felt called by God to reach out to O.J. and minister to him. The word got out and Bryant Gumbel invited Rosey on the Today Show to talk about O.J. Rosey talked about how he was offering God’s comfort and guidance to O.J. when Bryant Gumbel, with sarcasm in his voice, said, “If O.J. is guilty do you really believe that God could forgive him for the murder of Nicole? Would God really forgive someone for such a sin?” Rosie looked right at Bryant Gumbel and said, “Yes, I know God will forgive. He will even forgive you.” Bryant Gumbel didn’t understand his own need for God’s forgiveness, but if his eyes are ever opened to his need, Rosie is right, God will forgive even Mr. Gumbel. He will even forgive you and me!
God Will Speak To Us
Secondly, when we draw near to God He will speak to us. We listen to all kinds of voices which seek to fill our ears today, but it is time for us to turn down the voices of the world and listen intently to the voice of God. There are a multitude of voices out there speaking to us on every subject under the sun. You can find advice on how to make better grades in school, the origins of life, how to be a better husband or wife, how to prosper financially, how to overcome the setbacks of your life, how to become a better communicator, investor, and much more. All of that is well and good as long as the pursuit of these things doesn’t replace our pursuit of God. What we need today are not more voices, but the voice of God!
It is amazing how the host of voices multiplies like rabbits, while at the same time many in our nation believe the voice of God has gone silent. Can God still speak to His people? Not only can God speak to His people, but He does speak, and speak often to those who will have ears to hear. There are a number of ways in which God chooses to speak to His people. The writer of Hebrews wrote,
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV)
We are told that God spoke to those in Old Testament times through the prophets, and in many different ways, but that in these last days God has chosen to speak to us through His Son. Jesus is God’s clearest expression of Himself. All we must do is listen attentively to Jesus and we can hear God speak clearly to us. How do we listen attentively to Jesus? Good question. We can hear the voice of Jesus clearly as we spend time in God’s Word. As we draw near to God He will draw near to us and speak to us clearly. God desires to speak to us.
God Will Use Us To Impact Others
Third, when we draw near to God He will use us to touch the lives of others. We see an outpouring of compassion whenever tragedy strikes around the world. Just over one month ago stars from the music and big screen came together to raise over $30 million for those who suffered from Hurricane Sandy. Just two weeks later folks were sending their donations of money, food, toys, and school supplies to the victims of Newtown, Connecticut. The donations were so overwhelming that school administrators had to ask folks to stop donating school supplies. Twice a year there is an outpouring of local compassion all over our nation with Thanksgiving baskets filled and delivered and Christmas packages given to those in need by the ton. It blesses me to see how generous people are when they know about others in need.
I am overjoyed by the relief efforts aimed at meeting material needs, but I am saddened by the overwhelming spiritual, and emotional needs which constantly and consistently go unnoticed. So many people’s lives are falling apart at the seams and they need to know that the Lord is able to put the pieces of their life back together again. When disease devastates, divorce destroys, dissension divides, and death disrupts — who will be there to offer a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and who will go to God in intercession for those who don’t feel the strength to go for themselves?
One of the wonderful things that happens in our lives when we draw near to God is that He burdens us with people who we might never have noticed. Not only does He touch our hearts in order to move us to prayer and action, but He touches them. It is so incredible to feel moved by God to intercede for another person and to see Him impact that person’s life in the way God led us to pray. You and I are not the first to have this happen to us, the early believers were burdened by Peter’s imprisonment. They didn’t picket, organize a rally, or distribute flyers, they went to God in prayer. You can read about it in Acts 12. Take a look at verse 5 with me. “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5 NIV) That’s all we know. We don’t know what they prayed, how they prayed, or for how long they prayed. We know that they were earnestly praying to God for Peter.
Luke spends most of his time telling us about the details of Peter’s imprisonment in Herod’s jail. We learn that Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, he was bound with chains, and there were other soldiers guarding the cell door. Out of nowhere an angel of the Lord appeared, woke Peter up, and the angel said, “Let’s go!” Peter followed the angel right past the prison guards, out of the prison, and onto the street. Peter went to John’s momma’s house, right where they were having a prayer meeting. Let’s pick up the story at that point. Look at Acts 12:13-17 with me.
13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” 15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place. (Acts 12:13-17 NIV)
God puts folks on our heart, but if you are like me, you pray “hoping” but not having too much confidence that things are going to change any time soon. This story reminds me that we aren’t so much like those in the Early Church. The believers were praying earnestly for Peter when the doorbell rang. Rhoda, the maid, went to the door and looked through the peep hole. She couldn’t believe her eyes — it was Peter, the one they were praying for at that very moment, the one who was supposed to be in prison. Rhoda ran into the prayer meeting and interrupted them, “Hey y’all, Peter’s outside! He’s free!” They said, “Get out of here! You’ve lost your mind.” It would be easy to belittle the faith of the those praying, but I would have said the same thing. I do the same thing today. My friends take heart, when we draw near to God with those He has laid upon our heart — He will touch their lives..we can believe it.
God Will Send Us On Assignment
Fourth, when we draw near to God He will use us to accomplish His assignment. Do you realize that God desires to use you to accomplish His purposes? Do you realize that the God of all creation has an assignment for you? When we fail to draw near to the Lord we suffer from tunnel vision. Our aim is simply to make it through the day and take care of our own business. Life becomes mundane and pointless. When we draw near to God we begin to see opportunities that He brings our way throughout the day. You won’t come to that recognition unless you draw near and listen to His voice. When we draw near to God He will lead us and use us to accomplish His purposes through us. Wow! God is awesome!
In the book of Acts, as the Church was being born, the little rag-tag group of followers were drawing near to God. In Acts 2:42-43, we read,
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. (Acts 2:42-43 NIV)
Notice that they devoted themselves, they drew near to God, and God used them to accomplish His purposes. They came together to draw near, but then they were sent out to serve, to teach, to pray, to love on folks, to go to work, and much more.
How can we know what God is doing if we never take the time to draw near to Him? It’s not God’s will for us to simply find another Christian and pattern our lives after them. Neither is it God’s will for us to find a successful, growing church and pattern our ministry after theirs. God may have something totally different in store for you than He does for me and He may have something totally different in store for us as a church than He does some other church in town.
The Body of Christ is like a team. When I was in college I had a coach who did nothing but coach linebackers, and he was good at what he did. My coach would join with the other coaches and meet with the head coach on a daily basis. All of our coaches, the offensive, defensive, and special teams coaches were very good at what they did, but they were carrying out the assignments given to them by the head coach. They didn’t do things on their own. What they did fit together with the overall plan and purpose that our head coach set forth. And so it is with you and me. God has called me to do certain things. He has gifted you and called you to do certain things as well.
We gather here on Sunday to draw near to the Lord, we are encouraged and strengthened as we enter into His presence and praise His name together, and then we head out the door and go back to the mission field where He has called us. Our time together, drawing near to the Lord together, reorients us, motivates us, and moves us to continue to fight the good fight.
I can’t overemphasize to you how important it is for you and me to draw near to the Lord each and every day. It is as we draw near to Him that we will find the forgiveness we’ve been longing for in life. It is as we draw near to Him that we find strength and purpose for life. It is as we draw near to the Lord that He speaks to us through His Word. It is as we draw near to the Lord that He will use us to touch the lives of others. It is as we draw near to the Lord that He will give us a sense of our bigger purpose in this life. Won’t you begin this very morning to draw near to the Lord?
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
February 3, 2013